I’ve just come back from the Society for Medieval Archaeology annual conference: Being Medieval – Archaeology, Society and the Human Experience. You can read the titles and abstracts here. I was able to attend the public lecture and much of the first day.
The joy of the conference was seeing my former doctoral supervisor, Professor Heinrich Härke (Tübingen University, Germany) after quite a few years. Heinrich gave the Friday evening Annual Address to the society which simultaneously opened the conference.
You might know Heinrich from his work on early Anglo-Saxon weapon burials. You might also like to buy a copy of his ‘Hunschrift’ – co-edited by me!
Heinrich’s talk focused on the fabulous early medieval urban settlement of Dzhankent in the province of Kyzylorda, Kazakhstan. Located on the eastern side of the Aral Sea on a branch of the early medieval silk road, it was the capital of the Oguz in the 10th century. The archaeological and geophysical fieldwork since 2011 by Heinrich and his Russian and Kazakh colleagues is revealing that the town was a planned element of Oguz state formation in the 9th century. Its design reveals links with the Khorzmian civilization to its south and is a revealing example of urban design within a nomadic steppe environment.
You can read about the very early stages of this work online here. Heinrich is planning at least 3 more years of work at the site, so exciting results are most definitely forthcoming!
The Medieval ‘Living’ Dead
I also presented my own talk at the SMA conference regarding my ongoing work with the Leverhulme Trust Speaking with the Dead project and the ERC funded Past in its Place project investigating histories of memory in English and Welsh cathedrals. I presented a trial-run of this paper at the University of Worcester and you can read about it here.
My attempt to look at the conference theme was about ‘being dead’ in the Middle Ages and how the medieval dead affect human experience and social remembrance through their tombs and shrines. My topic was therefore the medieval ‘living’ dead, how senses of origins and early history of cathedrals are articulated through tombs to the present day.
In terms of social memory and materiality, the collective presence of the medieval monuments in cathedrals not only affect worship and visitors to this space, they might be considered as constituting a ‘cumulative assemblage’ of ecclesiastic and secular identities that was an intentional dimension of the medieval bishop’s seat and persisting down the centuries. In this process, they influenced various citations and imaginings of the Middle Ages, particularly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Together, despite translation and the accrued anonymity of many tombs of knights and priests, they constitute a commemorative agency within cathedral spaces, affecting worship and senses of the church’s legendary and historical past up to and beyond the Reformation. More than simply veneration focused on shrines of saints, these wider networks of memorials, some modest, some substantial, create the longue duree of selective remembering and forgetting within English and Welsh cathedrals. I used St David’s as my case study.
I was honoured that Heinrich generously gave my talk the thumbs up, knowing full well that Heinrich does not indulge in compliments without substance.